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Daniel Deronda

George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

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Daniel Deronda - George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

Daniel_Deronda MAIN

CHAPTER LXVI.

"One day still fierce 'mid many a day struck calm." --BROWNING: The King and the Book.

Meanwhile Ezra and Mirah, whom Gwendolen did not include in her thinking about Deronda, were having their relation to him drawn closer and brought into fuller light.

The father Lapidoth had quitted his daughter at the doorstep, ruled by that possibility of staking something in play of betting which presented itself with the handling of any sum beyond the price of staying actual hunger, and left no care for alternative prospects or resolutions. Until he had lost everything he never considered whether he would apply to Mirah again or whether he would brave his son's presence. In the first moment he had shrunk from encountering Ezra as he would have shrunk from any other situation of disagreeable constraint; and the possession of Mirah's purse was enough to banish the thought of future necessities. The gambling appetite is more absolutely dominant than bodily hunger, which can be neutralized by an emotional or intellectual excitation; but the passion for watching chances--the habitual suspensive poise of the mind in actual or imaginary play--nullifies the susceptibility of other excitation. In its final, imperious stage, it seems the unjoyous dissipation of demons, seeking diversion on the burning marl of perdition.

But every form of selfishness, however abstract and unhuman, requires the support of at least one meal a day; and though Lapidoth's appetite for food and drink was extremely moderate, he had slipped into a shabby, unfriendly form of life in which the appetite could not be satisfied without some ready money. When, in a brief visit at a house which announced "Pyramids" on the window-blind, he had first doubled and trebled and finally lost Mirah's thirty shillings, he went out with her empty purse in his pocket, already balancing in his mind whether he should get another immediate stake by pawning the purse, or whether he should go back to her giving himself a good countenance by restoring the purse, and declaring that he had used the money in paying a score that was standing against him. Besides, among the sensibilities still left strong in Lapidoth was the sensibility to his own claims, and he appeared to himself to have a claim on any property his children might possess, which was stronger than the justice of his son's resentment. After all, to take up his lodging with his children was the best thing he could do; and the more he thought of meeting Ezra the less he winced from it, his imagination being more wrought on by the chances of his getting something into his pocket with safety and without exertion, than by the threat of a private humiliation. Luck had been against him lately; he expected it to turn--and might not the turn begin with some opening of supplies which would present itself through his daughter's affairs and the good friends she had spoken of? Lapidoth counted on the fascination of his cleverness--an old habit of mind which early experience had sanctioned: and it is not only women who are unaware of their diminished charm, or imagine that they can feign not to be worn out.

The result of Lapidoth's rapid balancing was that he went toward the little square in Brompton with the hope that, by walking about and watching, he might catch sight of Mirah going out or returning, in which case his entrance into the house would be made easier. But it was already evening--the evening of the day next to that which he had first seen her; and after a little waiting, weariness made him reflect that he might ring, and if she were not at home he might ask the time at which she was expected. But on coming near the house he knew that she was at home: he heard her singing.

Mirah, seated at the piano, was pouring forth "Herz, mein Herz," while Ezra was listening with his eyes shut, when Mrs. Adam opened the door, and said in some embarrassment--

"A gentleman below says he is your father, miss."

"I will go down to him," said Mirah, starting up immediately and looking at her brother.

"No, Mirah, not so," said Ezra, with decision. "Let him come up, Mrs. Adam."

Mirah stood with her hands pinching each other, and feeling sick with anxiety, while she continued looking at Ezra, who had also risen, and was evidently much shaken. But there was an expression in his face which she had never seen before; his brow was knit, his lips seemed hardened with the same severity that gleamed from his eye.

When Mrs. Adam opened the door to let in the father, she could not help casting a look at the group, and after glancing from the younger man to the elder, said to herself as she closed the door, "Father, sure enough." The likeness was that of outline, which is always most striking at the first moment; the expression had been wrought into the strongest contrasts by such hidden or inconspicuous differences as can make the genius of a Cromwell within the outward type of a father who was no more than a respectable parishioner.

Lapidoth had put on a melancholy expression beforehand, but there was some real wincing in his frame as he said--

"Well, Ezra, my boy, you hardly know me after so many years."

"I know you--too well--father," said Ezra, with a slow biting solemnity which made the word father a reproach.

"Ah, you are not pleased with me. I don't wonder at it. Appearances have been against me. When a man gets into straits he can't do just as he would by himself or anybody else, I've suffered enough, I know," said Lapidoth, quickly. In speaking he always recovered some glibness and hardihood; and now turning toward Mirah, he held out her purse, saying, "Here's your little purse, my dear. I thought you'd be anxious about it because of that bit of writing. I've emptied it, you'll see, for I had a score to pay for food and lodging. I knew you would like me to clear myself, and here I stand--without a single farthing in my pocket--at the mercy of my children; You can turn me out if you like, without getting a policeman. Say the word, Mirah; say, 'Father, I've had enough of you; you made a pet of me, and spent your all on me, when I couldn't have done without you; but I can do better without you now,'--say that, and I'm gone out like a spark. I shan't spoil your pleasure again." The tears were in his voice as usual, before he had finished.

"You know I could never say it, father," answered Mirah, with not the less anguish because she felt the falsity of everything in his speech except the implied wish to remain in the house.

"Mirah, my sister, leave us!" said Ezra, in a tone of authority.

She looked at her brother falteringly, beseechingly--in awe of his decision, yet unable to go without making a plea for this father who was like something that had grown in her flesh with pain. She went close to her brother, and putting her hand in his, said, in a low voice, but not so low as to be unheard by Lapidoth, "Remember, Ezra--you said my mother would not have shut him out."

"Trust me, and go," said Ezra.

She left the room, but after going a few steps up the stairs, sat down with a palpitating heart. If, because of anything her brother said to him, he went away---

Lapidoth had some sense of what was being prepared for him in his son's mind, but he was beginning to adjust himself to the situation and find a point of view that would give him a cool superiority to any attempt at humiliating him. This haggard son, speaking as from a sepulchre, had the incongruity which selfish levity learns to see in suffering, and until the unrelenting pincers of disease clutch its own flesh. Whatever preaching he might deliver must be taken for a matter of course, as a man finding shelter from hail in an open cathedral! might take a little religious howling that happened to be going on there.

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